AFP intensifies operations vs. Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao after subleader's arrest

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 14) — With notorious Abu Sayyaf leader Anduljihad "Idang" Susukan now in government custody, the military is stepping up operations against other members of the local terrorist group who might conduct retaliatory attacks.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said in a statement on Friday that Susukan’s arrest is “a major blow” to the Abu Sayyaf leadership. He noted that one of Susukan’s siblings, Mujib, was killed by government forces in May 2003 while another, Almujahid, was arrested in September 2009.

“I have directed field unit commanders in Mindanao to further intensify focused military operations to prevent possible retaliation by Idang’s followers and to force them to surrender or face demise,” Gapay said.

The Davao City police took Susukan into custody after he was handed over by Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari on Thursday night. Susukan, notorious for kidnap-for-ransom activities, is charged with 23 counts of murder, five counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and six counts of frustrated murder.

The Philippine National Police will have temporary custody of Susukan while the court has yet to rule on which detention facility he will be jailed, AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said.

Susukan will be transported from Davao City to Manila today, Arevalo said, adding that he will be guarded by a contingent of police and military personnel.

Police said Susukan was in Davao City to seek medical attention. He lost his left arm in a bloody encounter in Patikul, Sulu, a known lair of the Abu Sayyaf group in February 2019.

Susukan was scheduled to undergo a medical check-up at Camp Quintin Merecido Hospital in Davao City before being turned over to the AFP general headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

In a separate statement on Sunday, Arevalo said Susukan must be held answerable for his long list of crimes, and it was now up to the Department of Justce to prosecute him.

"Meantime, for security considerations and Idang Susukan being a high value individual, the AFP through The Judge Advocate General and the PNP through The Intelligence Group will file before the court a Joint Motion to Transfer Custody of the accused Susukan to the AFP," said Arevalo.

He did not mention when the motion would be filed.

The issue of a grant of amnesty for Susukan was not for the AFP to comment on, added Arevalo.

He said, "It is an issue the resolution of which is rightfully vested upon the political decision makers to pass upon based on the recommendation of the Department of Justice."

It remains unclear since when Susukan had been with Misuari, who facilitated the negotiation between the wanted bandit and Davao City police. Malaysian media first reported the recent sighting of Susukan, who is also wanted in the neighboring country for cross-border abductions.

Misuari, a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, also has standing arrest warrants for rebellion and graft. President Rodrigo Duterte is talking peace with him and he was recently appointed as the country’s special economic envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.